‘First in Math’ program adds up to good results in Philly school district

 Some of Tuesday's winners: The team from Baldi Middle School. (Bill Hangley/WHYY)

Some of Tuesday's winners: The team from Baldi Middle School. (Bill Hangley/WHYY)

Some of Philadelphia’s best young math students were honored Tuesday by the organizers of an online program called “First in Math.”


Among them was Daniel Wang — a fourth-grader at Fitzpatrick Elementary who loves numbers and monster trucks. A trip to the Path of Destruction truck rally with his father next week will be Daniel’s reward for finishing second in the nation in an online competition.

“It all came down to the final day,” said Daniel afterward, holding his new gold trophy — the second he’s won from First in Math. “I was in third place at the start, and I kept fighting and fighting until I got there.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Daniel was one of about 200 Philadelphia students honored for their success in the program, which teaches basic math skills through puzzles and games. Students work through levels individually or in teams, earning virtual stickers for their successes.

“We make it fun, and competitive,” said Principal Mickey Komins of Anne Frank Elementary. “We have the classes compete against each other, we have rewards like extra recess, snacks — and stickers,” he added with a laugh. “In an elementary school, a sticker will get you whatever you need.”

Launched in 2002, First in Math is one of a growing number of online reading and math programs competing for schools and students. For years, it was offered at all Philadelphia public schools, but budget cuts have rendered it only an option. Currently about two-thirds of the district’s schools use it.

Retired principal Cred Dobson is working to get the program back in every school, but he says there’s no guarantee that will happen.

Of Komins’ 1,200 students, about 1,000 are using First in Math, usually on their own time. At $6 per student per year, he calls that a cost-effective way to lengthen the school day.

“If you can give them something structured that you know will assist them when they come back the next day, then that’s extending the day, without a doubt,” he said.

Dobson and Komins said the program is particularly useful for students who struggle with traditional learning. But they also said that nothing can replace an actual teacher in a classroom.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal